Tag Archives: Luke O’Nien

No Shame in Defeat at St Mary’s

Pre-match formalities

Pre-match formalities

The quarter-final of the Premier League U21 Cup saw a young Watford side travelling to Southampton.  The game had been rescheduled from the previous week due to the Saints’ involvement in the FA Youth Cup, so I found myself torn between a visit to the Royal Court to see Maxine Peake in a new play or to St Mary’s to see the young Hornets.  I opted for the latter.

On arrival in the stadium, our lads were warming up and I noted a couple of very young looking boys were taking part.  Jon Marks very kindly informed me that these were U13 players who had been rewarded for hard work with the chance to travel with the U21 team, which was a nice touch.  There were only a handful of Watford fans in the crowd so we all acknowledged each other and I made the acquaintance of a couple of other WML members, which was rather lovely.

This was the youngest U21 team that I have seen this season, with all the outfield players within the age group.  The starting line-up was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Johnson, Young, Byers, O’Nien, Martin, Folivi, Lewis and Mensah.

Folivi waits to take a corner

Folivi waits to take a corner

The game started disastrously for the young Hornets as Djuričić, recently arrived on loan from Benfica, played a through ball to Sinclair who timed his run perfectly so had only the keeper to beat, which he did with a casual dink.  The goal was timed at 70 seconds.  At this point, I was regretting my choice of entertainment for the evening but it soon improved immensely.  Our first chance came from Luke O’Nien who tried to chip the keeper from distance, but the ball cleared the crossbar.  There was a frantic spell around the Southampton box as first Folivi was stopped from shooting, then Mensah’s cross was blocked, finally the ball came out to Martin whose shot was wide of the near post.  Soon after, Martin broke forward and tried to find Mensah in the box, but his pass went behind his team mate.  Mensah then turned provider for Martin but the shot was blocked.  Next Folivi played a high ball to Mensah in the box which he couldn’t control.  At the other end Hesketh found Seager who blazed his shot over the bar.

Celebrating Mensah's goal

Celebrating Mensah’s goal

Johnson played the ball out to Lewis whose cross was blocked and flew out for a corner.  From the set piece, Savic got under the ball and directed his header over the bar.  The dangerous Djuričić broke forward and ran the length of the pitch before passing to Sinclair whose shot was blocked by the feet of Gilmartin.  Mensah tried a looping shot that fooled the keeper who could only put it out for a corner.  Savic, again, got his head to the delivery but Gazzaniga caught it comfortably.  A lovely passing move found Doherty on the left but his cross was cut out.  On the half hour, Hesketh played a through ball to Gape whose shot hit the side netting.  The visitors were level on 34 minutes as Folivi played Mensah in, he beat the defence and finished coolly.  It was no more than the young Hornets deserved as they had been excellent since the goal.  The Saints fans were shouting for a penalty soon after as O’Nien, who was on the ground at the time, appeared to use his arm when clearing the ball but the referee didn’t agree.  Folivi made a good run, but was stopped by a robust challenge on the edge of the box.  Into time added on at the end of the half, Hesketh shot from the edge of the box but Gilmartin was equal to it.  At the other end Byers released Folivi whose shot was straight at Gazzaniga.

So, honours even at half time.  It had been a terrifically entertaining half with a lot of attacking play from the young Hornets and the home side mostly restricted to counter attacks.

An attacking corner

An attacking corner

The second half started in the same manner as the first as Seager broke down the right, his cross was parried by Gilmartin but fell to Djuričić whose first shot was blocked on the line by Jorell Johnson, but the Serb made no mistake with his follow-up.  It was harsh on the Hornets who now had to start again.  They responded well as Young played the ball to Folivi whose cross was just a bit too high for Mensah in the box.  A cross-field pass reached Mensah on the right, he played it back to Martin who showed too much of the ball to the defender and the chance was lost.  Djuričić had the ball in the net again, but the flag was up.  Lewis played a deep cross to Mensah but the young forward headed over the bar.  Martin cut inside to get himself into a great scoring position, but his shot was weak and wide of the near post.  Martin’s next attempt to break was stopped by Gape, who was booked for the offence.  Byers took the free kick which was firmly held by Gazzaniga.  On 67 minutes Young made way for Obi and the Hornets went to three at the back.  Soon after Djuričić made way for Little, much to the relief of the visitors.

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

Byers and Mensah line up a free kick

With 10 minutes remaining on the clock, the Saints increased their lead as Sinclair broke forward before playing the ball to Hesketh who squared for Sims to slide the ball past Gilmartin.  The scoreline didn’t reflect the balance of play.  Just before full time, Sims appeared to have scored a fourth for the home side but, again, the flag was raised.  Watford grabbed a consolation in time added on as Doherty fed Folivi who shot past Gazzaniga.  The 3-2 final score was a much fairer reflection of a game in which the young Hornets had put in a great performance that was let down only by slow starts to each half.  They should certainly hold their heads high after what was a thoroughly entertaining evening’s football, which was well worth missing the theatre for.

Watford’s Youngsters Crush Leeds

The teams take the field

The teams take the field

This evening was my first visit to the Upper GT stand since the commemorative posters were put up.  Each one of them evoked memories that brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.  But tonight was about the future.  The starting line-up included the permitted three overage players plus an overage goalkeeper and was Gilmartin, Doherty, Savic, Young, Martin, O’Nien, Byers, Murray, Mensah, Ranegie and Fabbrini.  Apparently Savic is a Serbian triallist.  Among the crowd, it was lovely to see David Hughes back to see the youngsters that he used to train.

As the teams emerged from the tunnel the ref decided that they should face the SEJ stand for the respect handshakes.  This benefitted their non-playing team mates and the benches, but meant that they had their backs turned to all the paying punters.

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

Much amusement after Mensah scored the third

The visitors started brightly but Watford took the lead in the fourth minute.  Luke O’Nien, fresh from his goalscoring exploits for Wealdstone against home town club, Hemel, advanced to the edge of the box and as Don was yelling “Not from there,” belted it into the top corner.  A couple of minutes later Fabbrini went on a great run and passed to O’Nien whose shot from the angle was pushed out by the Leeds keeper, Grimes.  From our viewpoint, the corner appeared to have been headed the other side of the post, but Grimes emerged with the ball that he had retrieved from the net and the lino signalled that Doherty had scored.  It wasn’t all Watford, Leeds had a chance to reduce the deficit when a clearance came back to Stokes but Gilmartin was behind his shot.  Then Phillips got on the end of a cross from Dawson but headed over the target.  Murray played a one-two with Fabbrini, his shot from an angle bounced off the inside of the far post, Skelton’s attempted clearance hit Mensah and flew in to put Watford three goals up after 21 minutes.

O'Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

O’Nien after scoring his second goal of the night

Watford’s fourth came 15 minutes later as Fabbrini released Martin whose cross was met by Ranegie, his shot was blocked but the ball fell to O’Nien who made no mistake for his second goal of the night.  The fifth came soon after as Fabbrini hit a lovely curling shot into the top corner.  The first booking of the evening went to Purver of Leeds for clattering O’Nien, who was proving to be a menace.  In the dying minutes of the half, Leeds tried to strike back as Stokes broke clear and unleashed a shot but it was over the target.  It had been a tremendous half of football by the young Hornets who had hardly let the visitors have a sight of the ball, played some lovely passing football and been clinical in their finishing.

Fair play to the Leeds team, then, for coming out and having a go in the second period.  They had a shot in the first minute of the half, but Parkin’s shot was blocked by Gilmartin.  Booker was the next to have a go, his shot was blocked and fell to Parkin whose strike was easily caught by Gilmartin.

Traillist Savic

Traillist Savic

At the other end, Murray tried a curler from distance but it flew past the far post.  Parkin continued to threaten as a low cross was cut out by Doherty.  A lovely Watford move finished with a low cross/shot from Martin which Grimes pushed around the post.  The second Leeds booking went to Parkin, again for a tackle on O’Nien.  This had been a good spell for Watford, but Leeds were still pressing as a shot from distance from Skelton flew high and wide.  Watford made their first substitution just after the hour mark with triallist Savic, who had a decent game in the centre of defence, making way for Rowan.  Watford’s sixth goal came soon after as Ranegie ran into the box, held off the defender and shot into the roof of the net.  Watford made another change with Lewis coming on for Martin, so Mensah moved to the left.  I take full responsibility for the Leeds consolation as I commented that we might have won this game just before Phillips won a tackle and advanced into the box before playing the ball back to Dawson who beat Gilmartin.  Watford continued to threaten the Leeds goal as Fabbrini passed to Lewis who picked the ball up at the corner flag and did really well to keep it in and beat the defender to get in a low cross, but nobody could apply the finishing touch.

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford's sixth goal

Congratulations for Ranegie after scoring Watford’s sixth goal

A Murray free-kick into the box reached Ranegie, but he got under the header and it looped over the bar.  At the other end, Phillips had a free header from a cross to the far post but directed it into the side netting.  Watford’s final substitution saw Folivi come on for Fabbrini.  Gilmartin had to drop to save a low shot from Leeds sub Mulhern.  With 10 minutes to go, Watford were down to ten men as Mensah limped off.  O’Nein, who had so often been on the wrong end of Leeds tackles, got his own back and was booked for taking down a Leeds player as he tried to break.  Leeds hadn’t given up and a looping cross was headed goalwards by Mulhern but Gilmartin was there to gather the ball.  Ranegie was booked after complaints from the Leeds players that he had used an elbow.  Mulhern had been a constant danger since he came on, so it was a relief to see his cross/shot tipped over by Gilmartin.  Leeds earned another booking as Phillips was penalised for taking Lewis down as he attempted a break.  In time added on there were chances for both sides as, first, Folivi tried a shot from distance that was easy for Grimes then Mulhern came for a header, but the challenge of Gilmartin ensured that he directed it over the bar.

So, an impressive win for the youngsters but the visitors certainly deserved great credit for not giving up despite being 6-1 down.  Finally, thanks must go to Dave, the steward in the Lower GT disabled enclosure who was beyond helpful in ensuring that we got out of the stadium with the minimum of effort.

Goalless at the Stones

The teams enter the field

The teams enter the field

We’ve had a good relationship with Wealdstone in recent years, although I still feel guilty about the way they were treated during the ground share.  But that was in the Petchey years and he also screwed us, so the behaviour was not out of character.  This pre-season game had been billed as a Watford development squad, but Dave Hughes’ squad was to be augmented with a couple of first team players.

Don, Trond and I were in the disabled area, so well placed to see who arrived to occupy the VIP stand (if there is such a thing at Wealdstone) as they had to walk past us.  I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo arrive with Gianluca Nani.  Marco Cesarini was the next to walk past us, so I said hello and he shook my hand and introduced me to his wife and children.  I had failed to notice that he was followed by Beppe and the first team coaches, all of whom shook our hands.  We had become an unofficial welcoming party.

Pre-match handshakes

Pre-match handshakes

The starting line-up was Bond, Young, Doherty, O’Nien, Johnson (c), Brown, Tapoko (trialist), Smith, Jakubiak, Rosenthal and Fabbrini.  Former Watford youngsters Jonathan North and Elliott Godfrey started for Wealdstone.  There was a nice gesture from the excellent tannoy announcer who welcomed Smith and O’Nien back, both having been there on loan in recent seasons.

There was an early scare for the visitors as McGleish came in on the blind side of Johnson but, fortunately for us, his shot was wild and flew over the bar.  The same player threatened again soon after, cutting the ball back to Pigden, but Young was on hand to snuff out the danger.  Fabbrini had already been knocked over a couple of times, with no sympathy from the ref, when, in the 11th minute, he went down with a squeal of pain, holding his head.  He disappeared into the dressing rooms with the physio and we were playing with 10 men for 8 minutes.  Wright had a great chance to put the home side ahead, but his air shot gave the Watford defence time to clear the ball.

Smith and O'Nien

Smith and O’Nien

Watford’s first chance came as Smith got on the end of a low cross from Rosenthal, but his shot was wide of the far post.  Rosenthal was the next with a chance for Watford but his low shot from distance was easy for North to gather.  A forward run by Fabbrini was stopped rather brutally on the edge of the box, but the referee waved play on.  Rosenthal tried another shot from distance, but this time it flew over the bar.  On the half-hour, Mills took a free-kick for the Stones that was heading for the top corner until Bond leapt and turned it over the bar.  Then Collins broke into the box but Johnson was on hand to block the shot.  At the other end, O’Nien took a free-kick that flew just wide of the target.  With 5 minutes of the half remaining, Bond was blocked as he attempted to reach a free-kick, which fell to McGleish who shot over the bar.  Wealdstone continued to look for the opening goal as an excellent long pass reached Wright who cut it back to Okimo whose shot was repelled by a diving header from O’Nien, McGleish’s follow-up needed a smart save from Bond to keep the game goalless.  The last chance of the half fell to Rosenthal who, again, saw a shot from distance fly over the bar.  As the teams left the field Johnson and Bond were arguing with the referee.  The lino had missed some calls and the ref had been a little harsh on Fabbrini (yes, really), but I hadn’t seen anything that justified the apparent level of their complaint.  Certainly, Wealdstone had been the better of the teams in the first half.

Bond ready for anything

Bond ready for anything

The first chance of the second half went Watford’s way, but Fabbrini’s shot from distance was soft and didn’t trouble North in the Wealdstone goal.  We held our breath as Collins was tripped in the box, but the referee had been reluctant to blow up for fouls, which was to our advantage on this occasion as he waved play on.  On the hour, a Wealdstone corner was met with a header that flew over the bar.  Then Fabbrini broke through and was tripped, the ball broke to Jakubiak in the box but he couldn’t quite control it so his first shot rebounded off North, his second attempt beat the keeper but was cleared before it reached the goal.  Soon after, a free-kick from Doherty just cleared the crossbar.  That was his last action of the game as he was replaced by Mahlondo Martin.  Jakubiak found space in the box but could only shoot wide of the near post.

Waiting for the ball to drop

Waiting for the ball to drop

Fabbrini was fouled yet again with nothing given by the officials.  I thought it was my yellow-tinted spectacles that provoked my sympathy until the Wealdstone fan behind us commented on the unfairness of the decisions.  At this stage Fabbrini was replaced by Folivi and, as he immediately walked to the dressing room, was followed by Sannino walking through the stand the two of them having a lively conversation.  On 72 minutes, Carl Stewart replaced Smith.  Jakubiak went on a great run and unleashed a shot, but North was equal to it.  The final Watford substitution saw Dennon Lewis replacing Tapoko, the trialist, who had a decent game in the midfield.  Martin had a good shot saved by Carter, who had replaced North in the Wealdstone goal.

Young defending

Young defending

With 10 minutes remaining, Lewis latched onto a ball over the top and passed back to Jakubiak who had a great chance to win the game, but shot just wide.  The final action of the game was a free-kick from O’Nien which was just over the bar, so the game ended goalless.  It had been a lively contest and Watford definitely had the best of the second half with Jakubiak a constant menace to the Wealdstone defence.

Despite the lack of goals, it had been a lovely evening to watch football and I was impressed to see Gino Pozzo in attendance, as well as Nani, Sannino and all the coaches, supporting the Development Squad.

My Holiday on Woerthersee

Woerthersee Stadium

Woerthersee Stadium

When the pre-season game in Klagenfurt was announced for 5th July, I knew that a long anticipated trip to Garsington Opera on the Friday and tickets for the theatre on Saturday meant that my attendance was not possible.  Then, on Thursday, the venue and kick-off time were announced and the temptation was too much to bear.  After all, I’d be home from the opera before midnight and the play will be on until the end of August and there were plenty of tickets left.  When I found there were still seats available on the weekend flights to Klagenfurt, my decision was made.  So Saturday morning, at the crack of dawn, I was at Heathrow waiting for Don Fraser to appear for the trip to Klagenfurt.  Don was somewhat elusive due to a couple of dramas with the assistance at Heathrow, but he eventually appeared and we arrived in Klagenfurt on schedule.

We are in the right place

We are in the right place

There were no taxis available outside the airport so, when one finally turned up, the driver asked the others in the queue where they were going.  One young man was also heading to our hotel, so he shared the cab and told us that he was travelling with AS Monaco who were coming to the area for a training camp.  Needless to say, these were not the footballers that interested us.

After a lovely lunch and a relaxing afternoon, Don and I headed for the Wörthersee Stadium.  The stadium was very impressive indeed but, on arrival, the only footballers in evidence were the Monaco team having a practice game on the training pitch.  A few minutes later we saw a couple of familiar faces.  I must say that I am always greatly relieved to see someone with a Watford crest on his shirt when arriving at a pre-season venue just in case I have turned up at the wrong place.  In proper football saddo style, we positioned ourselves outside the players’ entrance and, very soon after, the coach appeared and the players piled off.  There were smiles and greetings from those who recognized us.  When Lloydy appeared, he just shook his head when he saw us, then came over and gave me a kiss.  He’d enjoyed his Summer, but wanted to forget the France game.  Then GianLuca Nani appeared and greeted us like old friends.

Don ready to report on the game

Don ready to report on the game

Once our guard of honour duties were complete, we enquired about the location of the supporters’ entrance to the stadium.  A steward, who clearly spoke no English and was taking no chances with my terrible German, directed us through the maze of corridors by means of smiles and pointing and, after taking a lift up, we emerged onto the concourse inside the beautiful arena and, as there was no obvious wheelchair area, took a place at one of the tables in the press area.  As Beppe came out onto the pitch for the warm-up, GianLuca pointed us out in the stand and we were treated to a wave and a greeting.  We’d positioned ourselves by the half-way line, so were soon joined by the players who were not taking part and the coaching staff.  Troy, Ikechi, Bernard Mensah and George Byers were the first to come up and they sat just in front of us, so we were treated to Troy’s opinions throughout the game which added greatly to the entertainment.

Gomes and Gartside warming up

Gomes and Gartside warming up

The Klagenfurt announcer, who was wearing a shirt with no 12 on the back (as were all the fans in replica shirts), went through a detailed description of the Klagenfurt players but did not deign to inform us of the Watford line-up, so it was the usual pre-season practice of trying to recognise these young footballers who all look the same to me.  I did pretty well as there have been no new hair cuts this Summer to fool me but, by the end of the first half, I had still not identified the no. 4.  I was embarrassed to have to ask who he was and was quite pleased to be told it was Tamas, so I had an excuse for not recognising him.

The starting line-up was Gomes, Brown, Cathcart, Tamas,  Pudil, Battocchio, Murray, McGugan, Dyer, Ranegie and Vydra.  I was a little surprised, but also gratified, to see that Murray was captain for the day. The first real attack of the game came from the home side and was thwarted by a wonderful saving tackle from Brown.  From the throw-in, the ball

So that's Gabriel Tamas

So that’s Gabriel Tamas

reached Prawda who shot high and wide.  The home side had another attempt on goal but the shot flew wide of the near post.  Watford’s first corner was taken by Dyer and a number among our support will be unhappy to hear that he took it short.  However, when the cross came in, it was met with a decent header from Vydra, but a Klagenfurt defender’s head was there to clear.  On 20 minutes, Vydra fed Dyer, whose shot was blocked by the keeper, Vydra picked up the loose ball and passed to Pudil whose attempt was also blocked.  Deeney was giving McGugan some grief as he lined up a shot and his judgement was proved right as Lewis’s attempt flew high and wide.  At the other end, a cross from the right was straight into Gomes’s arms.  Battocchio, who had made a great start, played a lovely ball over the top to Vydra, but the attentions of a defender prevented him getting a decent shot in.  Another pin point long ball, this time from Pudil, reached

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio on the attack

Battocchio but his cross was cut out before it reached Vydra.  On 26 minutes, we were a goal up as a lovely through ball from Murray found Dyer on the edge of the box.  He advanced and coolly slotted the ball past the Klagenfurt keeper.  A nice goal and the reaction of the players in the stands showed that Dyer is already a popular member of the playing staff.  The home side had a chance to strike back as a through ball found Zakany in the box, he tried a shot that was turned around the post by Gomes.  With 10 minutes to half time, the home side won a free kick in a dangerous position, it reached Prawda in the box but he headed wide of the near post.  Dyer nipped into the box, he was closed down so passed back to Ranegie, who decided to control the ball rather than just shooting and found himself with his back to goal so the chance was gone.  The home side tried to hit back just before half time with a free kick that was met with a strong headed clearance by Pudil.  On the stroke of half-time Klagenfurt won a corner, but it was coolly caught by Gomes.

Vydra on the attack

Vydra on the attack

At half-time, a Klagenfurt supporter stopped to talk with us.  He asked what we thought of the stadium.  I said it was beautiful, he looked sad and said, “But we have no fans.”  I wondered how they had the money to build such a stadium.  He told me that it had been built for Euro 2008.  He said that they have a good young team, but there is no TV money, no sponsorship and small crowds so they struggle.

At the start of the second half, Ekstrand, Hoban and Doyley replaced Cathcart, Tamas and Brown in defence with Fabbrini coming on for Ranegie upfront.  There was a scare for the visitors early on as we failed to clear a corner and the ball bounced goalwards, but Gomes saved with his feet.  From the corner Gomes came and caught the ball.  On 53 minutes, Pudil was booked for a late tackle on Zakany.  It was just in front of us and we could hear the victim’s rather dramatic scream.

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Challenging in the Klagenfurt box

Soon after, Murray played a one-two with Dyer and shot from a great position, but the ball curled high and wide.  On 57 minutes, Smith replaced McGugan.  The young Irishman was involved in the next move as he cut the ball back to Fabbrini who, if I’m being charitable, was fouled or, if I’m not, ran into the defender and collapsed.  Dyer then went off to be replaced by Jakubiak.  A shout of “Well played, Lloydy,” went up from Deeney and the new man looked up and smilingly acknowledged his teammate.  Then Doherty replaced Murray who gave the captain’s arm band to Pudil.  On 72 minutes a great run from Jakubiak appeared to have been stopped with a tackle that put the ball out for a corner, but it rebounded off the corner flag and stopped on the byeline, so Jakubiak retrieved it and hit a cross that just evaded Fabbrini and flew wide.  Then a decent shot from the home side was

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

The Klagenfurt keeper gathers

just tipped wide by Gomes.  There followed a sublime move down the pitch by Watford, which finished with Pudil putting Vydra through one-on-one with the keeper.  Deeney’s shout of ‘slot machine’ indicated that he also thought that a second goal was inevitable, but Matej’s shot was too close to the keeper who managed to save, leaving me with my head in my hands.  Soon after, Vydra received the ball again but a bit further up the field.  Don shouted “Give it to Lloydy” so he did, but Lloyd’s cross drifted wide and the chance was lost.  With 10 minutes remaining O’Nien came on for Vydra and Gomes was replaced by a young keeper who, Alec told me, is a 16 year-old scholar called Nathan Gartside.  At this point, Jakubiak went upfront.  With a couple of minutes to go, Hoban lost out on the left but battled back to retrieve the ball, it flew into the air and was gathered by Gartside.  On 90 minutes, there was great work from Pudil who controlled a long high ball to the left and skipped past a defender to unleash a shot that was cleared off the line.  The game finished with a deserved one goal win for the Hornets.

Dyer takes a corner

Dyer takes a corner

As the players left the stand at the end of the game, Angella, who I sponsored this season, spotted me and said hello.  I asked if he was resting.  He lifted the leg of his shorts to show the strapping on his thigh.  Fortunately, Don was on hand with the smelling salts.

We left the ground and took up stalking position at the players’ entrance again.  Don had brought a shirt that he wanted signed and handed it over to Richard Line, the Operations Manager, who promised to get it signed during the week so that Don could pick it up next weekend.  He said he wouldn’t bother the players now.  At that point, Troy came over to talk to us, he signed the shirt and took it onto the bus and then into the dressing room and Don soon had a shirt full of signatures.  We welcomed Vydra ‘home’.  Then Beppe came over and thanked us for our support and told us that they were working hard for the new season.  This was confirmed by Richard Line who said that they had been doing double sessions every day, which would explain the fatigue shown during the game.  To be honest, I hadn’t expected them to go all out in the first pre-season game, but that made me a little more sympathetic to any perceived lack of effort.

Vydra threatens

Vydra threatens

We waved the coach off and went looking for the taxi that we’d booked to take us back to the hotel.  It was nowhere to be seen, so we headed back towards the car park and asked one of the locals if they had a number for a cab.  There was a family there and one of the lads kindly called us a taxi and they waited with us until it arrived, calling to ask where it was when it didn’t arrive on schedule.  While we were waiting, they told us a bit more about the club.  When the stadium was built, the club was in the top division, but they got into financial difficulties and were wound up.  The new club had to start again in the 3rd division.  They attract a very small crowd, c 1500, who rattle around in a stadium with a capacity of 30,000.  When our cab arrived, we said goodbye to our new friends and thanked them for their kindness.

When my alarm went at 4am on Saturday morning after 3.5 hours sleep, I wondered what the hell I was doing travelling to Austria for a football match.  But, as Don and I relaxed with a drink back at the hotel, we reflected on a cracking day out where we’d seen some football but also met some delightful people, many of them connected to our football club.  We both concluded that we couldn’t think of a better way to spend the weekend.

Trumping The Tykes

After the unpleasantness of the midweek trip to Doncaster, it was lovely to return to Vicarage Road on a gorgeous Spring day.  It was also great to see the progress of the new East Stand.  Signs are that it will be an impressive addition to the ground.  Team news was the return of Almunia after illness with McGugan and Faraoni coming in for Merkel and Ranegie.

Congratulating Battocchio on a beautiful strike

Congratulating Battocchio on a beautiful strike

Watford started well and had a decent chance in the second minute, but Deeney’s shot from the right of the area flew over the bar.  We were a goal up in the fifth minute as a Pudil cross was met with a horrible miskicked clearance that fell to Battocchio who curled a beautiful shot into the top corner.  It was one of those strikes that make you wish you had been sitting behind it.  But even from the opposite end of the ground it was a joy to behold.  Barnsley tried to strike back immediately as a free kick from Kennedy was met with a header from Nyatanga that flew over the bar.  We had another great chance as a cross from Pudil reached Faraoni in the middle of the area, but his shot was stopped by Steele at point-blank range.  Next Battocchio was tackled in the middle of the pitch and, as he lay on the ground, Deeney picked up the ball, played a short pass to

Celebrating Deeney's stirke

Celebrating Deeney’s stirke

Anya who found Faraoni, but his shot from a very tight angle was blocked.  A minute later, we doubled our lead as Pudil intercepted a pass and advanced upfield, he found McGugan in the box who knocked the ball to Anya who cut it back to Deeney who, with his back to goal, had time to turn and shoot past Steele.  We had another chance soon after as McGugan found Anya on the left but his shot was just over and he had been flagged offside anyway.  At the other end, Dawson broke free of the Watford defence and found Lawrence at the near post, but he stabbed the ball wide from a couple of inches out.  Then McGugan made an interception and went on a run down the middle of the pitch, but was eventually closed down.  On 35 minutes, Pudil was shown a yellow card for a foul on Frimpong.  Soon after, Barnsley failed to clear a Pudil cross, it fell to Deeney who tried an overhead kick that was easily gathered by Steele.  So we reached half time two goals to the good but with next to nothing having happened in the previous half hour.

Anticipating the arrival of a free-kick

Anticipating the arrival of a free-kick

At the start of the second half, Angella played McGugan in, but his shot was straight at Steele.  Barnsley launched a rare attack as Kennedy advanced and put in a cross.  Lawrence came flying in at the far post but got nowhere near connecting with the cross.  Mellis was penalized for a foul on Tozser, he reacted by slamming the ball down and earned a yellow card for his petulance.  On the hour, Barnsley made two substitutions as O’Grady and Noble-Lazarus replaced Lawrence and Frimpong.  Tozser played Anya in then ran into the box to meet the cross, but his header flew wide when it looked easier to hit the target.  McGugan’s return from injury was over after 63 minutes as he was replaced

Celebrating Merkel's goal

Celebrating Merkel’s goal

by Merkel.  The substitute was in action almost immediately as he clipped a shot goalwards and, with Deeney closing in, Steele came out to gather.  Barnsley launched a counter-attack which finished with Jennings trying a shot from distance that was well over the bar.  Anya got himself into a dangerous position but, instead of shooting, hit a poor low cross.  He made up for it soon after as he went on a run down the left, cut the ball back from the byeline, it took a slight deflection before reaching Merkel who buried it past Steele for Watford’s third goal of the afternoon.  As the temperature dropped in the stands, attention was drawn to the touchline where Sannino had dispensed of his jacket and was rolling up his sleeves for the rest of the game.  This attitude was in stark contrast to the

Lucas Neill

Marco Cassetti

torpor on the pitch.  With seven minutes remaining, Lucas Neill made his Watford debut replacing Doyley.  Barnsley had a great chance for a consolation goal as a long ball fell to Proschwitz on the edge of the area, he tried to chip Almunia, but his shot came back off the crossbar and Pudil’s challenge prevented him from hitting a follow-up shot.  From the corner, Mvoto headed wide.  Pudil made way for O’Nien to make his debut for the last couple of minutes of the game.  He made his mark immediately with a foul on Kennedy.  The last chance of the game fell to the visitors, but Almunia dropped to gather Proschwitz’s shot from a narrow angle.

Luke O'Nien on his debut

Luke O’Nien on his debut

After the final whistle, a number of the players went over to the Lower Rous and Tözsér and Angella were there for ages signing autographs.  The post-match discussions were mostly about how dull the game had been.  We had won it in the first 15 minutes and, despite a slight Barnsley fightback in the second half, they had been poor opposition and we were coasting for most of the rest of the game.  But it is churlish to complain about a 3-0 home win, especially as that is our fifth in the row.  O’Nien’s brief cameo was an absolute delight.  He has impressed in the youth games that I have seen this season and looks like a great prospect.  He was clearly thrilled to get on and was tormenting the poor Barnsley defenders, running around fighting for everything.

Next up is a trip to Wigan, which won’t be easy with their current form.  We haven’t won away since October, and I missed the trip to Huddersfield, so it would be a real treat for those that travel away to see a win.  But, when all is said and done, this season is over for us, so let’s just relax and enjoy the remaining games.

Watching the U21s in Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

Welcome to Llanelli

A couple of weeks ago, when I booked my train tickets for the trip to Llanelli, travelling to support our U21s in the cup had seemed like a fun idea.  Yesterday, as I explained to colleagues why I was taking today off, I questioned my sanity.  My arrival in Llanelli didn’t do anything to lift my mood.  Having passed the grandeur of the Liberty Stadium on the train, the area outside Llanelli station looked positively second rate and the walk up and down hills through housing estates made me wonder where I was going to end up.  However, when I finally reached Stebonheath Park, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s a lovely little ground.  I was also happy to see the Watford team coach as confirmation that I was in the right place. As I entered the ground, I saw three other fans

The stand at Stebonheath Park

The stand at Stebonheath Park

walking around the perimeter.  When I caught up with them, I was delighted to see that that one was Robin, a friend from WML, who introduced me to Steve, another WML stalwart, and his friend, Jane, who is a Swansea fan.  As Bernard Mensah is a friend of Robin’s family, I asked if the youngster would be missing out due to his appearance on Saturday and was pleased to be told that he would be playing.  Another pleasant discovery was that the seats in the stand were yellow and red, surely a good omen.

When the team was announced, it was a young group without the permitted overage player.  I believe the oldest in the squad was 19.  The line-up, 1 to 11, was Wilks, Barnum-Bobb, Doherty, Byers, O’Nien (c), Kyprianou, Cumberbatch, Hope, Ikpeazu, Mensah and Martin.  Tom Rosenthal was on the bench, so we were joined in the crowd by Rocket Ronnie.

Pre-match greetings

Pre-match greetings

We had an early scare as Cumberbatch gave the ball away, Bray interchanged passes with Lucas but fortunately his shot went into the side netting.  Soon after, Swansea threatened again as Meade went on a run down the wing where he was stopped by a foul from Doherty.  He took a low free kick, which was diverted over the bar by Ikpeazu.  Then Swansea launched another good break, Sheehan put in a decent cross, but Jones headed it back across goal when it looked easier to score.  On 15 minutes, Watford’s youngsters had their first attack of note as Ikpeazu robbed Shephard, but his cross was cut out.  Swansea were immediately on the offensive as a cross from Donnelly was knocked wide by Bray.  Then Sheehan played a through ball to Bray who found Donnelly in front of goal.

Defending a set piece

Defending a set piece

He looked certain to score, but just tapped the ball towards goal and Wilks gathered safely.  Donnelly turned provider as he fed Jones, but his shot was gathered easily by Wilks.  On 24 minutes, Martin went on a run down the wing and found himself boxed in close to the bye-line with two defenders on him.  Somehow he managed to flick the ball into the box, it reached Ikpeazu, who had his back to goal and was unable to get into a shooting position.  Then Martin lost out to Bray in midfield, he advanced and whipped in a dangerous looking cross which was cut out by O’Nien.  Just before the half hour, a through ball was played to Donnelly running into the box, but Wilks dived at his feet to

Waiting for a goal kick

Waiting for a goal kick

gather the ball before he could shoot.  Soon after, a chance fell to Loveridge who shot just over the bar.  With 8 minutes to half time, Byers gave the ball away to Donnelly, Kyprianou pushed him over to stop the attack and was booked for his trouble.  Jones put the resulting free kick wide of the target.  We had our best chance of the half as the clock reached 45 minutes.  Ikpeazu was through on goal, but was being pulled back, which put him off and his shot went harmlessly into the side netting. So, we reached half-time goalless.  Swansea had had most of the play and the majority of the chances, but our defence had done well, particularly Wilks.  During the interval, we met Alan Cozzi in the tea bar, who confidently predicted a draw with us nicking it on penalties.

Hope on the attack

Hope on the attack

At the start of the second half, Swansea were immediately on the attack and a dangerous cross was headed off the line.  On 50 minutes, O’Nien just failed to cut out a ball to Donnelly whose shot was brilliantly kept out by Wilks.  Then Sheehan broke into the box, but Barnum-Bobb did a great job in dispossessing him and averting the danger.  Next Mensah was on the attack with a run down the left wing, but his shot was across the area and did not test Davies in the Swansea goal.  Watford were having a decent spell of possession and the next attack was a lovely passing move that culminated in a shot from Ikpeazu straight at the keeper.  Loveridge for Swansea then had a shot from distance that went over the bar.  The next incident that went in my notebook was a Swansea player being penalized for a foul on Ikpeazu.  This may not seem worthy of note but, for those that

O'Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

O’Nien sharing a joke with Mensah

haven’t seen Ikpeazu play, he’s a big gangly lad and referees seem to pull him up unfairly, particularly in 50-50 situations.  I think this was the first time I’d seen him win a free-kick.  Just before the hour, a Swansea corner was headed up by Doherty and Wilks had to punch it over.  Soon after, we won a free kick wide on the right, Doherty shot for goal and Davies had to stretch to keep it out.  On 65 minutes, Swansea should have been ahead.  First a shot was cleared off the line by Ikpeazu.  In the follow-up, Donnelly was fouled and the ref pointed to the spot.  Loveridge stepped up to take the penalty.  He hit it to Wilks’s right, but the young keeper dived and kept it out.  The resultant corner was poor and Watford launched a promising counter attack, but a pass through to Martin was short and the chance was gone.  On 69 minutes, Swansea had another corner that was met with a point blank header from Donnelly, but Wilks stood tall and blocked the chance.  Soon after, Ikpeazu was replaced by Rosenthal.  Young Tom’s first contribution of note was to break forward and be taken down by Lucas, who was booked.  On 78 minutes, a quick Swansea attack finished with Donnelly hitting an audacious chip goalwards catching Wilks off his

Rosenthal and Mensah

Rosenthal and Mensah

line.  Fortunately for us, the ball bounced wide.  Then Donnelly broke again but Wilks pulled off a great save to deny him.  On 81 minutes, Bray was replaced by Gorre.  Swansea’s last chance of normal time fell to Loveridge whose cross was easily gathered by Wilks.  Watford pressed for a winner in the last couple of minutes.  First a shot from distance by Hope was kept out by Davies.  Then, the final action of the game when Mensah went on a dangerous run, but his cross was cut out.

Huddle before extra time

Huddle before extra time

Extra time in the Bristol Rovers game had been a worry as the lads all looked out on their feet.  Today, they looked a lot fresher and eager for the extra period, while I congratulated myself on remembering to book a late train home.  In the second minute of extra time, Gorre tried a shot from distance that went well wide.  Then Mensah went on a run and dinked past two players before Shephard took him down and earned a yellow card.  On 102 minutes, Watford hearts were in their mouths as a dangerous ball into our box was almost turned into his own net by O’Nien.  Soon after, the dangerous Donnelly sent a glancing header wide.  Mensah had taken a knock in the first half of extra time and looked likely to be replaced at the break.  He started the second period, but was soon replaced by Bawling, who was named on the teamsheet as Alfred.  Surely Bobson Bawling isn’t actually an Alfred!  O’Nien was then booked for kicking Jones as he ran past.  The only attempt on goal in the second period of extra time was a cross from Sheehan that Donnelly nodded wide.  There was a final substitution as Joseph Jones replaced Meade, but the tie was to finish goalless and go to penalties.

Watford took the first penalty as our captain, Luke O’Nien, stepped up but skyed his kick (0-0).  It was heartbreaking for the lad, who had performed brilliantly during the game.

Blurred celebrations

Blurred celebrations

Gorre took Swansea’s first spot kick, putting it to Wilks’s right as the young keeper went the wrong way (1-0).  Doherty was up next and his shot went in off the crossbar with one of the Swansea crew by pitchside jokingly asking for goalline technology to prove that it had crossed the line (1-1).  Alfei stepped up next and put his penalty to the keeper’s left, just past Wilks’s stretching arm (2-1).  Hope hit a very cool penalty straight down the middle (2-2).  Donnelly hit his penalty to the right of the keeper with Wilks going the wrong way (3-2).  Martin hit a lovely penalty high to Davies’s left (3-3).  Then, with Robin shouting at Dan to go to his right, Loveridge hit a penalty to the keeper’s left and Wilks dropped to save it (3-3).  Byers hit a lovely penalty to the keeper’s left with Davies going the wrong way and we were ahead with only one spot kick remaining (3-4).  Lucas stepped up to take the penalty and the Watford contingent was delighted to see it end up behind the goal.  On the balance of play, that was cruel for the Swansea boys, but the defensive heroics, particularly by the wonderful Dan Wilks, meant the Watford youngsters were through to the final 16.

At the end of the game, we applauded the lads off, although they were soon back out for a warm down.  Bernard Mensah came over to talk to Robin, so I was introduced and the lad gave me a hug and thanked me for coming to support them.  As we walked around the pitch to leave the ground, we were chatting about what an enjoyable game it had been when we saw the Watford players all running in our direction.  I was confused as the tunnel was the other way, then I realized that they were coming over to us and each of them, along with David Hughes and the other coaches, shook our hands and thanked us for being there.  Luke O’Nien apologized for missing the penalty, but said he would step up and take another if necessary, a good leader as well as a great little player.  The lads were all beaming and so was I.

Early this morning, I wondered why I was taking a day off work to travel to Wales for this game.  After an enjoyable afternoon, with good company, watching a competitive game in a lovely little ground and seeing the reaction of the boys at the end, I have to say it was a day well spent.